If I can cut a secondary character from my story, that character doesn't serve a purpose and possibly doesn't belong. I ask myself several questions. How does this character advance my plot? What qualities does this character contrast with or mirror in my hero or heroine or my sleuth? Does this character create conflict or add to resolution? Will my readers understand my main character's motivation or flaws because of their interaction with this character? In mysteries, this goes for witnesses who don't have a large part to play but could still be considered suspects.
I enjoy writing about children, teenagers and pets, and they're never just window dressing. Children bring out character traits in adults that the protagonist might never see without their presence--compassion, protectiveness, unselfishness. They can also release laughter that the hero, heroine or sleuth has held inside too long. Teenagers can cause a main character to reveal wayward tendencies, rebelliousness and stubbornness he or she has managed to corral over the years, yet peeks through when the hero or heroine or sleuth is stressed or pushed to the wall. As an animal lover, I give pets in my books personalities and consider them secondary characters, too! If a woman or man is caring with a pet, chances are he or she will have empathy with others. And as my sleuth, Caprice De Luca says often, pets are such a good judge of character!
In DEADLY DECOR (Book 2 Caprice De Luca home staging series from Kensington Books), Caprice's pets play a huge part. The pregnant Cocker Spaniel that she takes in causes a deep bond to form with Caprice and one of her romantic interests. When they deliver a litter together, they can no longer deny the zing of attraction between them. Pets as secondary characters in each of my mysteries are essential to developing characters and their inner motivations.
If a writer can intertwine secondary characters with the main characters, as well as weave their stories in and out of the plot line, they will be essential, multi-dimensional and worthy of the title secondary characters whether they are pets...or people!
After writing over eighty romance novels in the past twenty years, I'm enjoying branching out into mystery where I can delve into everyone's relationships as well as create an intriguing puzzle. My third Caprice De Luca home-staging mystery revolves around Valentine's Day. GILT BY ASSOCIATION will be available in February 2015.